F/A-18E/F DEVELOPMENT (Senate - October 23, 1991)

[Page: S15093]

Mr. D'AMATO. Mr. President, having not yet fully paid the bill for the disastrous development of the A-12, the C-17, and the T-45, the Navy, the Pentagon, and some in Congress, are now falling over themselves to front-load the new F/A-18E/F development program. Where I come from, it's `three strikes and you're out,' but I played hardball, and I am told you cannot strike out in softball.

No matter that the aircraft proposed is an F/A-18 in name only--the fuselage, wing, tail, engines, and avionics will all be new. No matter that development is now pegged at roughly $5 billion with nowhere to go but up. No matter that the Navy cannot now afford to buy enough of the current generation of aircraft to fill the decks of the carriers we already have. All this has counted for nothing in the minds of those who are proposing this accelerated, almost desperate, ramp-up to meet a first flight deadline of the first quarter of 1995.

What is alarming about the F/A-18E/F is its suddenness. Last year's testimony by the Navy before the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee included not a word about the F/A-18E/F. Now, in the wake of a A-12 debacle, we are being asked to toss something approaching half a billion dollars at the very company responsible for the A-12 to develop a gap filler for the A-12. This would be laughable, if it were not for the fact that the joke is on the taxpayer.

And talk about a busy schedule, between now and the end of the fiscal year 1992, the F/A-18E/F program must jump the following hurdles:

First, system engineering studies to reduce risk and provide data for configuration definition;

Second, aircraft configuration definition based on the results of engineering studies;

Third, detailed specification generation;

Fourth, engine risk reduction effort or initiation of engine source competition;

Fifth, engine source selection--if competed;

Sixth, detailed specification review and approval;

Seventh, Milestone II decision;

Eighth, FSD contract award;

Ninth, contractor FSD aircraft design, analysis, and model testing;

Tenth, subsystem design and testing;

Eleventh, software preliminary design; and

Twelfth, long lead procurement.

No loitering around the water cooler for these guys.

Most amazing of all, however, is how close this plan came to being accepted. Had it not been for the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the F/A-18E/F would have sailed through and not even been a conference issue.

Mr. President, I ask that the language concerning the F/A-18E/F from the fiscal year 1992 Senate Defense appropriations report be inserted at this point.

The excerpt follows:

F/A-18 squadrons: The Navy's attempts in the past year to chart an affordable, militarily justified, and cost-effective course for the future of naval aviation have, in the Committee's opinion, not yielded the intended result. In the wake of the demise of the A-12 attack aircraft and F-14D remanufacturing programs, the Navy has proposed two new, major, and costly modernization efforts--the AX aircraft and the F/A-18E/F programs.

The AX program, intended to develop a less costly successor to the A-12 and an ultimate replacement for the aging A-6E, all-weather, medium-attack fleet, is nevertheless expected to cost at least $14,000,000,000. The F/A-18E/F upgrade is projected to cost at least $4,000,000,000. It is intended to provide the Navy with a complement and successor to the Navy's primary air-to-air combat platform, the F-14, as well as to supplement the carrier's offensive ground attack capabilities.

The Committee believes it is premature to assess the overall affordability of the AX aircraft, since the specific mix of combat capabilities and airframe performance parameters is largely undefined. For example, the concept exploration phase of the AX program will begin and extend through fiscal 1992, as competing industry design teams formulate their specific proposals to meet the Navy's broad set of tentative operational requirements.

Indeed, the degree to which the AX can perform both air-to-air, as well as air-to-ground, missions, is an important consideration being defined during the next year. According to the Secretary of Defense, the AX is expected to possess a significant air-to-air and air-to-ground capability for both offensive and defensive purposes. In a decade of declining defense budgets and changing threats, the Committee thinks this is a prudent conclusion. The affordability and military utility of primarily single-mission aircraft under these conditions is very much in doubt.

Thus, based on the Defense Secretary's statement, and the designs expected to be proposed by some of the industry teams, the Committee concludes that the AX actually has the potential to fulfill some of the air-to-air mission of the proposed F/A-18 aircraft.

The Committee's fiscal year 1992 recommendation with respect to the F/A-18 program is heavily influenced by the potential for the multirole capability for the AX, and the need to review the results of the concept exploration phase of the program to establish the extent to which this potential will be fulfilled.

While the F/A-18E/F variant is proposed to cure long-standing Navy dissatisfaction with the range and payload capabilities of current F-18's, a principal justification for the program is to provide growth room for further improvements beyond the F/A-18C/D and beyond the basic E/F. The core of the E/F program is to provide the fuselage weight, space, and power to permit further extensive and expensive upgrades to the E/F shortly after the basic E/F configuration is fielded.

The costs of developing and procuring these additional capabilities are not included in the $4,000,000,000 cost so far projected for the F/A-18E/F. The true costs of the F/A-18E/F program are unknown and the ability of future defense budgets to support such upgrades is uncertain. Indeed, these costs are not included even in the later years of the Navy FYDP, which is underfunded just for planned upgrades to the F/A-18C/D's.

The Committee is uncertain what advantage lies in spending $4,000,000,000 during the next 5 years just to field an aircraft we immediately will have to spend further untold millions or billions to improve. Based on the Defense Secretary's projection and the expected contractor designs, the extent to which the F/A-18 needs to be upgraded is very hypothetical. The more the AX is capable of air-to-air combat and supersonic speeds, the more simply producing additional F/A-18C/D's is an acceptable, affordable alternative to an open-ended, costly E/F program.

Furthermore, the high cost and steep increase in F/A-18E/F funding profiles is driven by an arbitrary initial operational capability [IOC] date and large contract termination-liability requirements. The Navy has failed to justify both the IOC urgency and the termination liability financial requirements.

The Committee notes the Navy has inflated the weight projection used to claim that the F/A-18 C/D will lose too much payload in the future--thus necessitating the E/F.

Also, a major question exists with respect to the survivability improvements claimed for the E/F compared with the C/D. In the Committee's opinion, these claims should be subject to more independent review before they can be accepted with sufficient confidence to help justify a $4,000,000,000 program. Further elaboration on this issue is contained in the classified annex to the Committee's report.

Finally, the Committee observes that in making claims about the affordability of the E/F, the Navy compares the costs of the aircraft with the more expensive F-14. The service does not consider any economies from forgoing the E/F altogether, procuring multimission AX in larger quantities, and purchasing more F/A-18 C/D's in the near term to address hypothetical inventory shortfalls. The Committee thinks these considerations should be assessed and notes the unit cost of an E/F will not be inexpensive, especially when further upgrades are considered.

Taking into account all these considerations, the Committee believes it is prudent to moderate the proposed pace of the F/A-18E/F program to prevent premature commitment to a costly program which may not be necessary, and which may not deliver as advertised. This moderation also will reduce the financial burden on the Navy budget and permit further assessment of the AX and F/A-18 programs as better, more complete information becomes available. The Committee's course of action permits more time to resolve these issues and preserves Congress' options and the taxpayers' pocketbook without risking national security.

For all these reasons, it is recommended that $319,077,000 be appropriated for all F/A-18 research and development efforts in fiscal year 1992. This amount includes $250,000,000 for the F/A-18E/F, a reduction of $133,000,000 from the budget request and $153,000,000 from the House allowance, but an amount still representing 2,908-percent growth (excluding inflation) from the program's fiscal year 1991 funding. This amount is more than sufficient to maintain program momentum in this difficult budget environment.

The Committee makes this reduction without prejudice and believes that the $250,000,000 provided demonstrates full support for maintaining Congress' option to pursue a vigorous and robust F/A-18E/F development program in the future.

To assist the Congress in evaluating the full benefits and costs of the F/A-18E/F program, additional information is needed. Therefore, the Committee directs the Office of the Secretary of Defense to submit the following information, no later than April 15, 1992:

An updated cost estimate for the program, including a full listing of all the upgrades contemplated for the F/A-18E/F, the total cost, and costs between fiscal years 1992 and 1998 to develop, procure, and install each upgrade, the timetable for such acquisition and installation, and whether each upgrade project is fully funded in these years.

An updated projection by the U.S. intelligence community validating in detail, by region, scenario, and potential adversary, the most likely and realistic air-to-air and surface-to-air threats the F/A-18E/F would face in the years 1998-2010, and the specific validated threat capabilities which each particular F/A-18E/F upgrade project is intended to counter.

An independent assessment of the capabilities of each F/A-18E/F upgrade to counter each specific threat.

A new cost and operational effectiveness analysis by an independent organization in no way connected with the Navy, assessing the cost and operational effectiveness of the E/F with the F/A-18C/D's configured as they are programmed to be by fiscal year 1996, and with the emerging designs for the AX.

An independent assessment by the Air Force's civilian and military experts of the proposed survivability features of the E/F and their likely effectiveness against the expected threats and their resistance to countermeasures.

For the purposes of conducting the independent survivability analysis, the Committee directs that the Air Force military and civilian experts, including those at Lincoln Laboratory, be provided access and clearances for all information they deem necessary.

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Mr. D'AMATO. This is some of the most thoughtful language on naval aviation I have seen in a year that will hopefully represent the nadir of Navy aircraft development. Let me repeat the key paragraph: `The Committee makes this reduction without prejudice and believes that the $250,000,000 provided demonstrates full support for maintaining Congress' option to pursue a vigorous and robust F/A-18E/F development program in the future'.

That is considerably more generous than I would have been, but it gets to the heart of the matter: Good government. Our job is not simply to rubber stamp every cockamamie scheme that is belched forth from the Navy's bilge. We are charged with oversight, with holding the services to account. This language does that.

I commend it to my colleagues, and look to both the Defense Authorization and Appropriations conferees to incorporate this reasoned approach into their final conference packages.